Here it is early August. Our postman is less burdened because junk mail mailers, knowing from experience that response rates are low during high summer, send out less junk mail. Blog-wise, this is a Friday post and experience has shown me that readership drops off for the weekend right about now and doesn't pick up until well into Sunday.
Doldrums time, in other words.
So I'll take advantage of the situation to write about something hardly anyone will be around to read: government-funded art.
Yesterday morning's Seattle Times editorial page offered this op-ed column titled "Disappearing federal funding for the arts threatens American soul" by a fellow named David Hahn who is identified as "a composer who lives in Seattle."
Hahn begins his piece with a few odd sketches of presumably imaginary just-folks artsy people who are already marginalized in American society. Following that is a riff about how the Roman Catholic Church (not a government, though some states were headed by clergy) funded all kinds of wonderful art-related things in centuries past. Then he comes to the crux of his meandering piece which I quote below to preserve in case the link disappears.
Art is not to be reserved for rich patrons. Somewhere there is a gardener who loves avant-garde jazz, a bus driver who loves opera, a cop who digs ballet and even takes dancing lessons, and a hotel service worker who spends her free evenings at the theater. Art answers questions about our condition, perhaps not directly, but in the way we individually relate and react to it.
Croatia, a country that has a per capita GDP that is half that of South Carolina, is willing and able to support scores of independent artists including actors, musicians, painters and filmmakers. These people are provided a salary on which they can live and in return, they are asked to pursue their arts — adorning the state and providing art for the people.
The United States has different priorities. More often than not, publicly funded art is the object of congressmen's ire and attempts to dissolve the already poorly funded National Endowment for the Arts. The NEA, with a $150 million budget, can use funds for only a very few arts groups, but at least the department is a symbol saying: "America cares for the arts." Given today's radical state of the budget debate in Congress, the NEA will likely soon be dissolved.
With the recent promises of budget cuts, the arts will again be undermined. The power and vital importance of the arts not only for our economy but for our individual and collective soul is being crushed.
While it's nice to be given the impression that artists are owed a living from taxpayers, perhaps a pause is in order to look what we are getting for our generosity. The public art pictured below for the most part probably wasn't funded by the federal government -- not directly, anyway. But it is the sort of public art we seem to get regardless of what level of government funds it.
Even I, contrarian that I claim to be, do not think all public art is bad; that Augustus Saint-Gaudens fellow cranked out some nice things from time to time.
But most of the public art I see nowadays strikes me as a waste of money. Contra Hahn, if the art shown above had never been created, I doubt that any poor, artsy soul would have been crushed by such non-events. And as for my poor, delicate, artsy soul? It gets crushed daily by the sort of expensive, pointless, publicly funded art that continues to pile up around town.